Looking for a movie that encourages us to be better people? That coaxes us to consider the needs of others, without being overly ponderous or dispiriting? That makes us feel like a kid again, while equipping us to be better grownups? And a movie that kids will love, on top of all that?

If such a film appeals to you, then treat yourself to Millions, 2005's most delightful surprise so far.

Alex Etel, in a charming performance, plays 8-year-old Damian, the younger of two brothers who stumble onto an unexpected fortune. Damian, obsessed with the lives of the saints, sees this as his opportunity to do something saintly—he wants to give the money to the poor. But his selfish brother Anthony wants to use the money to become the cool kid on campus. Meanwhile, a shadowy character is lurking about, trying to get the loot back. With Christmas just around the corner, Damian will learn the hard way that doing the right thing can be more complicated than it seems.

The Unexpected Fortune has been the premise of quite a few comedies—most of them awful. But Millions comes from the hyperactive imagination of genre-leaping director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later), and it's wise, meaningful, laugh-out-loud funny, and relentlessly inventive. It's not just a satisfying family film—it's an exhilarating film. You'll leave the theater with a ridiculous grin.

My full review of this delightful film is at Christianity Today Movies, where you will also find my interview with the director.

Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) raves, "Millions is a rare and special family film: a moral parable rather than a morality tale; a film that combines high ideals and hard realities; a story of hope and faith in something more than Santa Claus. Which is not to say that Santa Claus, or rather St. Nicholas, doesn't show up. But when he pops on a bishop's mitre rather than the familiar red Santa hat, it's clear we're not in Hollywood movieland here."

Christopher Lyon (Plugged In) says, "Boyle and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle refuse to leave any scene ordinary, capturing the imagination of children with vivid colors, unexpected angles and extraordinary graphics. The filmmakers also hit a homerun in casting … Etel as 7-year-old Damian. You can't help but love the kid. Boyle has succeeded in crafting a fanciful yet challenging movie." But he adds, "It also exudes strangely mixed messages about faith and money. Like so many films with religious themes, the faith of Millions is placed in human goodness, not God's goodness."

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Many (if not quite a million) mainstream critics are applauding Boyle's achievement.

Robots — Fine machinery, or just a 'mechanical exercise'?

Robots, the new animated feature from the makers of Ice Age, was a well-oiled box office machine, earning $36 million in its first weekend—but falling short of the March record set by Ice Age in 2002 ($46.3 million).

The movie features spectacular digital animation, and characters voiced by Ewan McGregor, Mel Brooks, Halle Bery, Greg Kinnear, and Robin Williams. McGregor plays Rodney Copperbottom, a robotic inventor in a world of robots who travels to meet his hero, Bigweld (Brooks). Along the way, he falls for a pretty executive (Berry), gets in trouble with a tyrannical corporate bigwig (Kinnear), and a motley crew of robots called "the Rusties."

Todd Hertz (Christianity Today Movies) says these bots could have used a tune-up: "While entertaining, Robots almost feels like a mechanical exercise … in how to make an entertaining family film instead of relying on innovative storytelling to create magic like CG powerhouses The Incredibles and Shrek 2 accomplished. The result is an enjoyable movie you laugh with, cheer on, and even tear up during—but once you leave the theater, not much of it sticks with you."

"It's a high grade of clever, and I enjoyed it a lot," raves Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films). "Robots combines the visionary alternate world-building of Monsters, Inc., the flair for gadgetry and gimmickry of an old Fleishers cartoon, and most sneakily of all, the toybox nostalgia of the Toy Story movies, with cleverly worked-in toy and game references—Operation, Slinky, Wheelo—that will have adults grinning with recognition. The story … is a familiar one, but offers some great character design … and terrific action sequences."

But Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) says the film is inappropriate for younger viewers. "The standard for family films has dropped so low that it is now very rare indeed to see a good, animated film which does not contain bawdy humor. [Robots] is creative and fun, and it has a nice message. [But] as a parent—and a diehard Southern Girl who believes in decorum—I won't be taking my child to see Robots. I truly do not know when flatulence became an appropriate object of discussion—much less a bottom-line requirement for children's films." ("Bottom-line." Nice pun.)

Kevin Miller (Joy of Movies) wasn't discouraged by the bawdiness. He says Robots is on par with the best of Pixar. "Robots is a spectacular film. Not since Monsters, Inc. have I been as delighted and amazed at an animated feature. So why is Robots so great? I greeted each new scene with joyful expectation, because it was bound to be jammed full of so many little nuggets and inside jokes that it would take several viewings to appreciate them all. You got the sense that the filmmakers had thought of everything, and it is precisely this attention to detail that made the worlds of Nemo and Monsters feel so real. I was spellbound that someone could even conceive of such a comprehensive, multi-layered world like this one, much less make it move, talk, and sing."

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Frederica Matthewes-Green (National Review) says the "good looks" aren't enough. "Towards the end of Robots, a character resembling the Tin Man of Oz clutches his chest and says, 'Now I know I have a heart, because I can feel it breaking.' Better check again. This animated feature has just about every pounding, clanking, or squeaking mechanism imaginable, but nothing in the shape of a heart. What it's mostly got going for it is an extraordinary look. … Yet despite the visual achievement, the film is essentially cold. It feels like the writers and director picked out a few Pixar movies … and took them apart frame by frame, trying to figure out the formula. First they knew they needed an inspiring message so, spin the dial, how about 'Believe in yourself'?"

Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) calls it "technically dazzling but disappointingly formulaic … undermined by a merely serviceable script which substitutes some needlessly vulgar humor and a pat follow-your-dream sentiment for true wit and originality."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "The jokes and sight gags come fast and furious … too fast to register them all with a single viewing. And yet there isn't much else that compels one to sit through the film for a second time. There are a number of clever moments but too often the film relies on the kind of bathroom humor that requires no wit or intelligence."

Tom Neven (Plugged In) says, "Robots builds in a few sly sexual innuendoes and occasional potty humor. (And the climactic battle is dizzying and intense.) But it's set in a visually stunning, richly imaginative world where the virtues of loyalty, courage and perseverance get strong play. It contains bucketfuls of positive messages about accepting people despite their differences, helping the downtrodden, standing up to bullies and doing the right thing despite inconvenience and even danger."

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Mainstream critics are responding with more praise than complaints.

Hostage described as "exhausting," "improbable," "nauseating"

When Bruce Willis appeared on the big screen recently with a pistol in his hand, you may have thought you were seeing a preview for Die Hard 4. Willis has been talking about the possibility of a fourth Die Hard film, but it's not happening quite yet. In the meantime, Willis fans will have to settle for Hostage. This action-packed thriller, directed by Florent Siri, features Willis in the role of Jeff Talley, a former LAPD hostage negotiator who comes back from a slump by attempting to rescue a family from some convenience store robbers who have taken them captive.

"Hostage does have its strengths," says Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies). "For those of us who think Willis is at his best when he plays more vulnerable characters … it is refreshing to see him play a human being once again, even in something as pulpy as this. [But it] revels in a sort of operatic vulgarity. This, in and of itself, is bad enough; but once the story exhausts its over-the-top cheesiness, there are still a few loose ends to tie up, and so the film drags on. For a thriller that started on such a tense, taut note, that's a shame."

Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) says, "Siri keeps up the unrelenting tension, which helps obscure some plot improbabilities (of which there are several). Willis gives a convincingly anguished performance, and Ben Foster … is scarily effective as the worst of the teens, with a scarily sadistic edge."

"Willis shines in these kinds of films and Hostage is no exception," says Michael Elliott (Movie Parables). "Siri cut his directorial teeth on video games and it shows in this film. Lots of attention has been paid to setting up the situations that the characters are in but the resolution of those situations are too easily achieved and not altogether believable."

Marcus Yoars (Plugged In) says, "After sitting through two hours of this bloodbath, it strikes me as pointless to debate whether Hostage is a clever thriller or a shoot-'em-up action flick. What it is … is nauseating."

The film didn't settle too well with mainstream critics either, even the action fans.


The great Swiss actor Bruno Ganz (Wings of Desire; Faraway, So Close!) stars as Adolph Hitler in Downfall, the Oscar-nominated World War II drama written by Bernd Eichinger and directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel.

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Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) writes, "Several films about Hitler have been made in the English language … but Downfall is the first in decades to be made in Germany itself. And it is precisely because Hitler and his associates are shown in all their emotional complexity that we realize just how monstrous and dehumanizing their thoughts and deeds were."

He adds, "Watching Downfall is, curiously, a little like watching The Passion of The Christ—we enter the theatre knowing the basic story, and the film takes us through all the familiar plot twists … while testing our endurance with its supposedly accurate, non-stop violence. The obvious difference, of course, is that one film is about the Son of God, and ends on a note of resurrection, whereas the other is about one of the worst governments ever known, and for the Germans, there is no clear hope in sight, even when Nazism ends; for many, the end of the war will mean not liberation, but another form of totalitarianism under the Soviets."

We couldn't find any other Downfall reviews from the religious press, but mainstream critics are giving it high marks.

More reviews of recent releases

Be Cool: Andrew Coffin (World) says, "Chili begins the film talking about the artistic sacrifices involved in making a sequel, something to which his character has just acquiesced. For a movie so concerned with the calamitous plight of such bottom-line-driven projects, Be Cool is remarkably bad. Or is that part of the joke? That doesn't make the film any funnier, but for the sake of everyone involved, I hope it's true."